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Conspiracy Theories
I find this an entertaining topic. Michael Shermer, in Why people Believe Weird Things, asked why people believe that invisible agents control the world - and he included invisible agents such as secret superconspiracies alongside gods. Now this might be going too far, for high level people in corporations and government surely do plot malicious things, BUT I think Shermer had a point: that a narrative with a giant bad guy (conveniently invisible) is so tempting, for people - especially surplus males, as economists are describing these days.

I don't believe in "conspiracy theories" many of them are about up there with the idea of alien abduction, but I think the culture which produces them - and is getting more and more mainstream - is interesting (if troubling).
I think you hit the nail on the head by mentioning gods. Some people are just so afraid of not being able to understand the world they live in that they'll invent fantastical answers to their life's great questions and then seek out some evidence to support their conclusion, which clearly flies in the face of science and logic. Such questions can range from "Why do we exist" to "Is there any chance I might be able to meet Elvis one day?".

Self deception's an easy way out of an often difficult situation. 
The mistake many people make (and why they're scared by chaos and human craziness and consequently making up conspiracy theories) is assuming "world peace" is the default. It is not. Conflict is the default, and we have to re-learn to accept it and not lose sleep over it. This is something that's typically not found in religions that have invisible bad guys (who are trying to sabotage world peace) - the two ideas are mutually exclusive. 
I get the impression that people don't like the idea of things happening for no reason at all (chaos) or things happening because many people behave in a certain way without being aware of the greater consequences (emergence). It goes against humankind's obsession with controlled, safe and secure living environments.

For example, I think the financial crisis (or crisises (sp?)) we have is an emergent phenomenon. There is no great conspiracy to let markets crash. The financial market is a prototypical chaotic system (in the mathematical sense) with lots of potential for emergent behavior. As such it cannot be predicted or even understood by us and that's why we are afraid of it. That's also why it needs to be regulated by the way.

Anyway, I agree that conspiracy theories are an alternative way for humans to hold up their illusion of living in a controlled environment. And since in the western world most people do not believe in an almighty god anymore, they make up those theories. 
Worst Topic Ever. 
Although you guys talk sense about it. 
I Think Daz And Dranz Are The Same Person 
That's the real conspiracy. 
That's What I've Been Saying 
for years! 
I Think It's A Question Of Scope 
if you look at lobbyism, corruption, politics, etc. It is pretty obvious that "small scale" conspiracy (or maybe just evil) is certainly possible, and very probable. 
That's one thing I find interesting: given that corporations governments and etc actually do plan to do unpleasant things behind closed doors, how does someone who thinks that the official story behind the Iraq war was total bullshit and that the real motivation was pure geopolitical power-grabbing greed, differentiate himself from someone who thinks 9/11 was an inside job.

I thought that the belief in alien abductions, satanic cults, and so forth which was so prevalent in the US in the 80s and 90s, was really interesting. It's modern folklore that reflects people's fears. The internet seems to have made all of this more mainstream than ever before. 
Well. I do think that the reasons for the Iraq war were pure geopolitical power grabbing and it's established that Iraq never had WOMD nor ties to al-Quaeda and the US lied in front of the UN to get support for their war.

So that part isn't really a conspiracy theory since it's pretty much established.

The main remaining question is if 9/11 was "an inside job". This isn't established at all, and personally I think it's possible both ways. There was a historical precedent - the Nazis torching the Reichstag (German parliament) and pinning it on "the Communists". It may be seen as a similar thing - it helped the Nazis get support for their power grab.

Now... there is a difference between putting fire to it and somehow enticing a bunch of crazies from other countries into hijacking four planes at the same time (in the US!) armed with a couple cutter knives and basic knowledge of Microsoft Flight Simulator, while most of the US air force was in Canada or something.

The latter is infinitely more complex to pull off. Occam's Razor would suggest that the simplest explanation is the most likely one - it was really a bunch of extremists executing an uncommon attack strategy and succeeding because it was unthought of and not prepared against.

Doubts remain, of course. I personally assume that people like Bush, Perle, Rumsfeld etc are not smarter than your average Joe and mainly driven by lust for power, money etc. Hence I would doubt their ability to pull off something so complex, honestly. Just think of the number of people that must be involved.

Where's the fine line between theorizing and being a conspiracy theorist? Well, I don't believe all the stuff about fake moon landings, HAARP, UFOs, chemtrails, 2012 etc. 9/11 is really the only case where I could see the remote possibility of something resembling an "inside job", but I'm not convinced, so I'm probably not a conspiracy theorist. 
Why Are Conspiracy Theories Always Exotic? 
Answer: Because conspiracy "junkies" are not looking for conspiracies, they are looking for entertainment and fantasy. And are, frankly, bored.

If conspiracy junkies were actually looking for real life conspiracies, there are plenty of them to find. They just are not "action movie fodder" caliber.

People like Julian Assange (the Wikileaks guy) were looking for actual conspiracies and found them because tons of them exist in real life.

But your average "conspiracy junkie" will ignore things like the mayor embezzling right in his home town and make a run for the internet forums to indulge in fantasies about aliens, 9/11, birth certificates because frankly such talk gets attention and these conspiracy junkies want some escapism and to be entertained.

[Nothing wrong with escapism or wanting to be entertained. Everyone wants that. I'm just saying the conspiracy theorists are not actually looking for the boring and real-life conspiracies that actually surround us all --- because those are not exciting.] 
Yeah, most RL conspiracies are about sex parties for managers etc. 
Profiteering, Usually ... 
[Disclaimer: Human civilization is a continuous struggle dealing with ups and downs. Correctly observing these cycles does not mean the world is a bad place, just that cycles of development occur ...]

But at least in the US, eventually they discovered that investigative reporting is boring and realized ratings in news is about American Idol and talking heads.

Successfully dumb down the populace and then you get away with virtually anything with a complicated trail.

Such is the tragedy of "democracy". Reality is that the intelligent and devious will eventually complicate their schemes as to be too difficult for the general populace to ever fully understand, and then exploit this to the detriment of the populace.

The United States doesn't have a $15 trillion debt (with another $50 trillion in unfunded obligations in the next 20 years) because the political system is healthy, but rather because corporations realized they could buy the political system. Politicians win. Corporations win. Politicians on both sides of the United States stupid 2 party system engage in silly debates over trivial things to distract Joe Sixpack and ensure he is dumbed down.

John Q. Public doesn't care because he is busy watching TV or playing XBOX. He briefly notices when his job ends up vanishing or he can't pay his mortgage (real estate collapse). Then John Q. Public gets told by <insert party name> that <insert Obama or Republicans> are to blame and he gets mad at <insert whichever one>.

John Q. Public then decides that voting <insert whichever one> out of office will solve problem.

Problem was John Q. Public does not pay attention, got caught in shell game. Cannot win shell game by playing it.

Overall, these problems are not historically so bad compared to violence, famine, plague, war and such. The upside is that politicians and corporations recognize that any occurrence of those intolerables and they will lose their power and they do not want those as a result.

World always have problems. Some problems not so bad as others ..... ;) 
I think a lot of conspiracy theories attempt to take what may potentially be a real problem and ascribe a specific group as a cause, whereas in fact the issues with society are systemic and come about through its normal operation (eg capitalism boom and bust). Similar to a lot of tea party supporters. Their problems may be real ones (and grave ones), they're just being sold an insane solution because they've either not been given an alternative or the propaganda has drowned it out.

I also think calling something a conspiracy is a great way of rubbishing it. Call 'Corporations are evil' a conspiracy theory and you're putting it in the bucket with fake moon landings and 9/11 truthers. ie something to giggle at.

Corporations have too much power and are too embedded in politics. But this isn't rooted in one shadowy organisation with a single evil plan, it's something to expect as a general force of the upper class protecting their interests. The coercive law of competition directly leads to the huge drive for constant growth and increasing profits, and they will pursue all avenues to this. The idea to infiltrate politics and make it support you is a pretty obvious one, and a corporation certainly doesn't want no government at all, and doesn't need to join forces with other corporations to go do it themselves.

This also means that different factions of a ruling elite will combat each other, eg landed aristocracy vs industrial capital. Industrial capital vs Finance capital etc. 
Too Bad That ... 
[^^ pretty spot on .. zqf]

Earth-based telescopes and even the Hubble telescope aren't capable of the resolution required to spot a flag on the moon.

The fake moon landing conspiracy theory was ingenious.

One reason a lot of conspiracy theories are put forth is that they can sell books and make $$$.

People like real-life sci-fi stories and real life James Bond type of stories.

Humans are creatures that eat and sleep and through work, movies, books, games and other thought explorations we find a greater existence within our own mundane existence. 
Incidentally, this is why the ruling elite is against free university access for everyone and advocates elite education for a few.

A smart well-educated populace is the key foundation of democracy. Hence universities shouldn't create the next generation of managers and politicians and bilderbergers, they should ideally create the next generation of democrats (not the party).

Universities owned by industry = bad. Elite education = bad. Broad education of people = good.

Dumb masses / opium = anarchy / apathy on the lower tier, oligarchy on the higher. Make no mistake, anarchy always helps the warlords. 
Arnold J. Toynbee 
I have been researching his ideas lately. He was British historian and economist who died in 1975 and had some interesting insights on the rise and decline of civilizations.


His key thesis is that civilizations decline when they cease to combat their problems. 
education is a huge issue, in my personal experience, the less educated someone is, the more they believe in conspiracy theories like chemtrails (god this one is hilarious), 2012, aliens (lol the whole reptoids thing makes me nostalgic for the days when the alien conspiracies were less ridiculous and could make a cool show like x-files - imagine if they made reptoid files what a shitty show that would be), etc.

I basically think that education and propaganda/advertising are two fundamentally opposed cultural forces, one based at least in its ideals on seeking truth, the other based in principal on lying in pursuit of some interest.

one frustrating thing is that comedians I really admire like Bill Hicks (check out "Marketing") and George Carlin ("Education") actually believed in conspiracy theories, respectively JFK and 9/11 truth.

Occam's razor and science are the best tools for critical thinking, I think. People like Hicks and Carlin were so rightfully pissed off at propaganda and high-level corruption that they let emotion cloud their critical faculties imo.

It's true that these problems aren't as bad in terms of short term standard of living for rich or rising countries, as the world has been in the past. Still, some real bad shit could be coming (climate change, environmental disaster, nuclear war, population explosion/starvation/resource shortage etc). Given what it is possible to convince some people of, I'm hoping that one day the minority of scientists/smart people will arrive at genetic engineering, an entire generation's IQ and empathy will spike, and the efficiency of propaganda will plummet, and then things will be less shitty, people will be smarter and there will be no need to believe in conspiracy theories (or religions - creationism is a huge conspiracy theory for example). 
To Each, His Own 
Carlin was a funny guy. "The world plus plastic", his talk about "stuff" and subsets of stuff with the minimal set being your wallet.

Genetic engineering: Will make us obsolete. But eventually that will happen.


A legitimate scientific possibility. For example, is the following list of numbers random: 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9?

Stars have a strong bias towards producing carbon. Most estimates of when life started on Earth place it a mere billion years after formation and we discover amino acids on comets.

Really the problem is that humans excel at finding conflict when there is none. What many actually object to with creationists isn't the idea that perhaps the universe was made on purpose, but rather that organized religion has a tendency reject common sense scientific findings like <insert dinosaur bones, Earth is not center of solar system, fossil records, bacteria strain mutations, etc> in favor of unhealthy lowest common denominator thinking.

Likewise, what is objectionable about some conspiracy theorists is that they so strongly want to believe in a specific conclusion that they will ignore facts to get there.

I mean, I guess I CIA really did try to kill Fidel Castro with poisoned cigars and such. Not all conspiracy theories are wrong, and part of the ideas of conspiracy theorists are healthy: do not accept what you are told by the powers that be at face value.

Reality is what we perceive it as, and there is a danger of becoming too comfortable with "what you think you know". We could wake up tomorrow to discover to find out something wild and crazy by conventional standards.

One time last year I was arguing with a "Obama wasn't born in Hawaii" person and I said "Ok, let's say everything you say is true. Now what? What's the next step?" This individual was so caught up in the idea, he didn't know what to say back to that.

[Tron Legacy had a great quote: "The thing about perfection is that it's unknowable. It's impossible, but it's also right in front of us all the time."

^^ If the world were perfect, we wouldn't have anything to do. Therefore, since the world isn't perfect, the world is perfect.] 
Re: Science 
The scientific method is sound, but the ethics of science are sometimes not. Science is just a tool and can be abused - I don't like science that creates remote controlled animals for surveillance purposes, for example. I don't like science that creates H-bombs. There needs to be an ethical factor to science wherever it's applied. And bam! as soon as you have ethics, you have something that's not entirely within the realm of science.

I'll say that I'm religious. However my religion has no simple good/evil scheme and no absolute truths. It is a collection of traditions more than anything.

Spirituality is something human, as long as it doesn't turn into a system of absolute truths. I just want to encourage people to differentiate. Religion isn't just TV preachers and suicide bombers. Would you tell a bunch of Amazonian Indians that their spirits and shamans are "crap" and science will save them?

Just be careful with this religion vs. science thing. Roll some ethics into it. Where you find those ethics is your problem; there might be good and true stuff in some religious texts or traditions just as well as in modern philosophy.

The problem with some religions (not all) is their inability to learn and evolve (usually because some holy book is regarded as the inalterable truth). 
Re: Baker. That is an AWESOME response to the birther conspiracy. So Obama should be booted, and McCain/Sarah Palin put in? The democrats should have run someone else? It's a good point that the conspiracy here, is just an excuse for really disliking someone and their politics.

Re: gb. I agree that science has been and continues to be applied in unethical ways. My statement was a giant generalization and thus I shouldn't have made it. creationism is a conspiracy theory, in that involves believing that almost all scientists are deliberately deceiving the public. but, sure, lots of religions have good traditions that can stimulate ethics. I just think of them as literature, though, which can do the same thing. When they start making metaphysical claims, that's when I think they're straying into science's territory. but yeah, good point.

and re: both. creationism could have been true, it could still be true, but the evidence has always, in my view, pointed away from the monotheistic worldview (copernicus/galileo, newton, darwin, einstein, etc - whatever they believed personally, the scientific discoveries they are each famous for contradicted the theistic worldviews of their time and forced theists to give ground - or, in darwin's case, not. actually I've heard there are some geocentric fundamentalists out there lol). 
Ah, I'm not a creationist. I still enjoy looking at creation myths as something people tried to explain the world with, back when there was no science, only long cold winters and no food.

I love the story of Ask and Embla for what it is, because I empathize with the people who came up with it and told it to their children to scare away the dark. Utterly human. I can reconcile that with the Big Bang theory perfectly because I don't take it as ultimate truth...

As long as one does not take their respective old literature to be the only absolute truth, especially if said literature says to "slay the infidels" or "stone to death the witches", then it can be a nice part of your tradition.

Sadly the "book religions" are all rather zealous about it. It's more sane to view it as literature, tradition, or historical sources. This is a step that is way overdue for Christianity, for instance. They should just say "ok, not everything in the Bible has to be taken literally" but apparently they can't. It's even worse with Islam. Book religions.

Btw I didn't mean to sound harsh, I was just asking rhetorical questions if you know what I mean. 
I didn't mean to imply that you were a creationist. I find creation myths beautiful, and myths in general. one of my major criticisms of scientists arguing against religion in its more harmful forms right now, is that several of them seem to have no understanding of the appeal of mythology whatsoever.

yeah you're right, it's even worse with Islam. I saw an interview on TV in the middle east, with one guy arguing the earth was round because they had pictures of it from space, and the other guy saying it was flat, because the Koran said that. lol.

PS I personally think the Old Testament is awesome, it's so fucked up. I'd never take morality from it, but parts like the Passover are really powerfully creepy. God's abilities and motivations are weird, it's like he hasn't evolved (heh) yet into this abstract moral deity and is instead like a sexually repressed schizophrenic version of Zeus. 
Hah. I should read it sometime, unfortunately I have only a very rough understanding of all things related to book religion.

But we're really OT now. 
A Cry For Help 
I always interpreted the 9/11 attacks as a desperate plea for help from a part of the world suffering in neglect and abuse that the rest of the civilized world was more than content to ignore their woes.

Many of the "problems" with Islam as perceived by the West are -- at their root --- an act of assertion to the rest of the world that "we matter".

Not in a hostile way, but in a way that they want to be accepted as part of this world. That they wish to participate in it, that they want us to care about their problems.

Sure weird assertions like a key spiritual leader in Saudi Arabia saying the world is flat seem funny, but careful observation points to the fact that their part of the world does not want to be isolated, that they want attention, that they want their culture to be acknowledged. These are not acts of isolationism, certainly no globally broadcasted TV can ever be an act of isolationism.

China was remarkably primitive in the late 1980s, astonishingly so.

Ten years later, they had changed dramatically.

Twenty years later, they have exceeded the West in capitalistic means not unlike Japan by 1970. Islamic countries have dramatically changed in the last 10 years.

Give it 10 or 20 more years ... 
Something To Think About 
Cited From The Above 
In 1966, the U.S. Army released the harmless Bacillus globigii into the tunnels of the New York subway system

I mean, wow. That's crazy. Small wonder conspiracy theories exist. 
The thing is, all kinds of really crazy paranoia-inducing things HAVE been done, like the above. But I guess it's just occam's razor and science to separate reality from fantasy, as always.

In the Middle East, some groups want democracy, while others support Islamism. bin Laden and his fellow Islamists, were in my opinion acting against westernization - the flow of western culture into the Middle East, especially freedom of speech and women's rights affecting the outlook of the younger generation. Sure this is accompanied by economic exploitation, but if exploitation and oppression were enough to cause targeting of mass civilians in terrorism, where are the Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers killing hundreds or thousands of Chinese? What the Islamists want is not to be connected to the west, or to India, or China or Israel, or anyone else, one terms of multicultural give-and-take. They are backwards fundamentalists who are terrified of women and want to impose theocracy on every part of the world once conquered by Islam. bin Laden did not want help from the West, in my view, and if Islamists could destroy the west (and India, and Russia, and Israel), they actually might. Islam, as one historian put it, "has bloody borders."

None of this justifies US foreign policy, but Islamists are the ones melting women's faces with acid for going to school. That's not a cry for help. That's backwards fundamentalism. 

Although maybe China just doesn't tell you about Tibetan suicide bombers. ;-) 
Really when you say "Islam" you mean modern Islam.

The France and Great Britain had half of those places as colonies a century ago and they were no better or no worse than most other third world countries they colonized.

A lot of Islamic countries are experiencing the painful (and often initially bloody) transition to modern times.

East Asia went through this period 20-50 years ago (Cambodia, Vietnam, etc.) and South America went through this transition half a century ago (Pinochet, etc.).

Just because Europe made the transition a few centuries ago for the most part doesn't mean that as human the ones living in Islamic places are lesser people.

It just means their culture is experiencing an identity crisis that much of the rest of the world encountered long ago.

It sucks to be at the tail end of a curve, but things like cell phones and internet and independent broadcast stations like Al-Jazeera mean that the genie isn't going back in the bottle.

They will change. Change is inevitable and it only goes a single direction, although some times it goes two steps forward and one step back as part of the transition. 
personally I don't feel like I know enough to make any judgments on "direction of history" arguments. Was the industrial revolution inevitable, was democracy inevitable, are "developing" countries including theocracies moving toward a western model? I have no idea and I'm kind of skeptical that anyone really could have solid ideas on these things. I'll bet if I read a book on this subject (and there seems to be no shortage of really ambitious books about it), I could be convinced one way and then exactly the opposite way by another book, because the subject is so massive. I suspend judgment on it thus. may be of interest to you, Tronyn. for at least one side of the argument. :) 
Interesting man, but meh, his views and his logic are marred by his idea of Christianity IMO.

Pretty brutal religion, with the idea of original sin and all. I don't think there is any sin (and I also think the world and everything in it is "good" by default; that includes conflicts or the food chain). And I think Christianity would do good to forget that concept.

Just MO as usual. I agree with him on the notion that humanity has always been inherently - not religious - spiritual. I agree that it is part of being human. It all depends how you handle it and what the details of your religion or spirituality are. I's not automatically bad or harmful - need to differentiate.

I recommend reading "His Dark Materials". Pullman gets a lot of things right. 
I subscribe to Marx's view of religion. The heart of heartless world, the soul of soulless conditions. It's a painkiller. People who turn to religion are not necessarily stupid or ignorant, but desperate. I think religion causes great damage and suffering in the world, but it is a symptom of a greater problem, that of human suffering and inequality.

Despondent people sold a panacea by snake oil salesmen, or some other pithy comment :p 
I know several people who claim experiences similar to what Jacques Ellul claims. Reasonable people, academics, students, firefighters. Not poor, hopeless people.

The same thing can be said about UFO abduction encounters. My take on it, is that the brain can generate some intense and bizarre experiences, in some cases positive in some cases negative. I just think that no matter what one's intelligence level, subjective experience doesn't make good evidence for objective claims about the nature of reality.

Organized religion is different, more of a social phenomenon, that I agree tends to be more pronounced in societies where things generally suck. 
I just think that no matter what one's intelligence level, subjective experience doesn't make good evidence for objective claims about the nature of reality.

These claims don't need to be objective. This is what most people don't get. If someone has a god-experience like that, they shouldn't try and make it into something objective and go try and convert people. Similarly, others shouldn't automatically assume they're somehow wrong. To each their own. 
Live and let live, basically. 
Peace To That Brother 
The problem lies in the definition of the word 'Know', and 'Must', combined.


"I know that what they are doing is wrong and unethical, so they must be stopped"

Then war happens. 
I actually disagree. Giving up the idea of knowledge (ie relativism, no one's beliefs are any better than anyone else's, often motivated by multiculturalism/good intentions) isn't necessary for tolerance. Rational, respectful debate is better - especially on culturally sensitive issues. Certainly some ideas are superior to others, whether we're talking truth claims (history, science, etc) or more culturally infused things like ethics (ie almost every culture agrees that slavery is wrong). Holding a belief, one inherently believes that the belief is correct, and therefore others ought to hold it if they weren't in some ultimate way, mistaken. This is why all but the most liberal religions have a problem getting along - and even some uber-hippie pacifist person ultimately thinks other people should do what he (or she) does and believe what he (or she), this person is simply not willing to use coercion (though they may use persuasion) to achieve this. 
Holding a belief, one inherently believes that the belief is correct, and therefore others ought to hold it if they weren't in some ultimate way, mistaken.

You can experience stuff and it can be good and valuable for you, and you can draw from it, all without necessarily needing to go and convert others or be a missionary.

relativism, no one's beliefs are any better than anyone else's, often motivated by multiculturalism/good intentions

I was arguing the very specific case of individual god-experience or individual spiritual experience. It doesn't keep me from subscribing to the Big Bang theory at ALL if I had some individual god experience or if my distant ancestors believed the world was created by a giant cow or something. I can keep these apart just fine.

I was an academic once, I'm familiar with the scientific method. When I became "religious", there was a period where I thought that science must be wrong (or limited) because I couldn't reconcile things in my head. It seems it is a common first reaction when science and spirituality collide that one of them must be wrong. I no longer subscribe to that idea. All that is required is the ability to keep them apart, which is something organized religions often deliberately do not teach their adherents in order to produce some sort of suicide bomber puppets. That is a crime, let me be clear about that. But not all religion is automatically like that.

Atheists and scientists can be as pompous as the Pope sometimes. It's not their business what someone does at home. Also our media LOVE to generalize. I bet when most people think "religion", they actually think "Islam" or something they have seen on TV, instead of "Lakota" or "Sami" or "Siberian shamans".

Which is a shame, really, there is so much more. 
I think you might be misunderstanding me, though you just made a ton of good points. Or maybe we're talking past each other. I think keeping these things separate is important, and it would lead to a better society in which creationism/fundamentalism wouldn't exist. Truth claims and religious traditions are indeed separate. I also don't deny that scientists can be really arrogant. P Z Myers and Jerry Coyne, for example, really piss me off. Especially Myers: he has a little man complex and is looking for a cause.
All of that said, I think that science has explained enough (including the start of the universe and our human brain functions) that the two DON'T need to be kept separate.

Powerful subjective experiences can be integrated with neuroscience. Basically, I think that it's likely that science (math physics chemistry) can explain anything we encounter, in principle, including our own consciousness. And from there, whatever any human might experience must not be incompatible with chemistry, physics, math, etc.

Sure it could be. I think a Siberian shaman's experience and views are extremely interesting. But I don't think they contradict the laws of physics or the discoveries of neuroscience. I think we're living in one big compatible playground, as soon as the superstitious lay off all claims to objective/scientific knowledge. 
Especially with the mention of nueroscience.

I prefer Nueromancy, which is just a fancy way of talking about books.

I'm not a god person. I've read that there is a genetic predisposition towards being religious.

Having lived in a strongly catholic culture for many years I want really speak bad of those who need the support of organised religion.

Despite the smears on 'the church' aside, I do believe there is something to be said for belief. Or faith, better put. I'm too old to buy into it, probably 10 is too old to believe in the spaghetti monster, but that's just my closed view.

There's a bloody mindedness that only those with faith or complete egocentricity can have. To the extremes this results in, well, religious extremism - or psychosis.

Difficult topic. 
This Would Be Much Easier 
Over a beer. 
All of that said, I think that science has explained enough (including the start of the universe and our human brain functions) that the two DON'T need to be kept separate.

Interesting position.

Modern reconstructionist traditions are aware of the need to reconcile with science (ie. they're aware that this is 2011, to put it bluntly) and are typically using the scientific method to achieve their reconstruction, even (to the point where you'll be asked to either provide a citation, or "plead UPG").

Book religions with their tons of professional priests and exegetes would probably not be so relatively easy to reconcile with science.

ijed: For an atheist, your maps definitely contain an awful lot of blood-sprinkled altars ;-) 
that's all Lovecraft in my view... one of the first modern writers (and a total atheist) to note how incredibly fucked up it would be mysterious powers actually wanted humans hacking each other and animals to pieces as "offerings." The whole Abraham sacrificing his son story, is incredibly creepy - I'd say, even creepier if the voice he heard telling him to do it was real, than if it was just a hallucination of his.

I like this UPG idea, because until recently a lot of scientists basically just denied the validity or interestingness of such experiences, thinking that if people were just less retarded they wouldn't have them. I hope in the future they can come up with generalizable methods (heh) to generate UPG-type experiences. If they ever release that God Helmet thing commercially and it works, it might be pretty interesting for certain people. If they ever figure out dreams, the imagination, whatever is responsible for the spiritual sense, and let us play with that, the results could go beyond anything in any religious tradition/history. 
People are not going to "change". Not even if we want them to.

Humans have an exceptionally wide scale of behavior ranging from ape-like savagery to very sophisticated behavior.

Higher level thinking is not going to go mainstream because tendency is to do as little as is necessary to survive and think as little as needed to fit in. Kind of like a gravitational force that acts as a barrier.

The bar continually raises, information spreads but higher level thinking is actually its own worst enemy.

In two ways ...

1) First, intellectuals tend to draw "final conclusions" due to the human character flaw of ego. You see supposed scientists drawing strongly worded conclusions that they cannot make as scientists. Science is open-ended, always curious, always open-minded ... it does not draw "final conclusions" but rather makes assessments to the likelihood.

2) Intellectuals tend to fail the "survival of the fittest test" and have a tendency towards an Ivory Tower lifestyle. But someone still has to do menial jobs, and those functions are critical operations for our species. And worst of all, some of the higher level attitudes are not compatible with survival.

By definition, you cannot be the fittest if you do not survive and propagate higher level ethos.

"Evil" exists for one purpose and one purpose alone ... "to be defeated". You cannot talk with it, reason with it, bargain with it.

I've recently inadvertently run across several otherwise brilliant historical figures who probably unfairly shattered their reputations by speaking about great Hitler was prior to the invasion of Poland.

Some of the less advanced parts of the world do have wannabee dangerous figures that if left alone will do "bad things". Fortunately, I think cell phones, internet and other hard to control means of communication will lead to less of this kind of thing in the future. 
In my opinion there is no "evil" as in the idea of polar opposites good & evil. There are just things people can't cope with.

Some of the less advanced parts of the world do have wannabee dangerous figures that if left alone will do "bad things".

All parts of the world have dangerous figures. It doesn't go away because one is more advanced. 
You Know ... 
I don't truly believe in the concept of "evil". Not objectively. "Evil" is the ultimate self-sabotage, stains your environment.

That being said, I have seen "evil". It is possible to rationally justify away the causes or such.

But those people will not change. Nature fail? Nurture fail? Bad childhood ... in the end it does not matter, those people have to be dealt with, like the rotten apples they are lest they be allowed to infest their environment.

Objectively there is no such thing as evil. Only chaos and stupidity.

But subjectively ... there are evil people that represent a clear and present danger to their environment. Ugh. 
Hmmmm - Evil 
I think that evil is a real definition. It's pre-meditated wrong-doings. Crimes against people. Dis-regard for other people's lives. Committing actions intended to harm the innocent.

I think that some people can be classified as evil based upon the things that they do.

Nature, nurture, things people can't cope with - it doesn't matter, these are explanations, not excuses. 
On The Off Topic 
I find it so weird that people think neuroscience is going to undermine the basis of law, that the basis of criminal law is free will. Like yeah, if a mass murderer was basically predetermined to torture and kill as many people as he could, then we wouldn't lock him up? We would imprison tsunamis if we could, protecting society from harm has nothing to do with some abstract concept of freedom from our own brains (which makes no sense anyway). The metaphysical baggage of the terms good and evil is very problematic, but, I still find the term evil very useful. Sometimes there is nothing else you can say. 
If You Want To Talk About The Limitations Of People's Perceptions 
with regards to language or communication - well you can pick just about any word, say it 100 times and it begins to sound like meaningless nonsense. 
And what does that prove? 
I just mean that if one were to say that there was no such thing as 'evil', one could just as easily say that there is no such thing as 'carrot', or something to that effect..... 
No, One Can't 
Evil is an abstract concept. A carrot is an object. What are you trying to say? 
"It's pre-meditated wrong-doings."

Evil is a tricky subject.

Your cat will willingly do very mean things to smaller creatures and do it for fun.

So is every Mr. Bigglesworth evil?

Well ... if kitties are evil, there is an another example: children.

"Evil" is oddly a relative thing with a variable definition that varies from circumstance to circumstance.

But that's boring.

What is far more exciting is what is the definition of "good"? That one has intricacies that are fascinating. 
doesn't it all come down to a matter of harm or benefit to sentient beings, basically causing benefits is helpful, while causing harm is evil (I argue that it is even if it's not deliberate, as the consequences of actions, not the "intentions" behind them, are why things are evil - as a side note I'm extremely biased in this argument since I feel like basing morality on intentions gives people the excuse of stupidity or, more likely, willful ignorance, "I didn't know my western lifestyle had all these consequences" etc, and I just really hate that idea).

answer: bigglesworth is evil if mice are sentient, and it doesn't matter that he's doing it for food or for fun, etc... nature contains and causes a huge amount of suffering, there's this idea called abolitionism in ethics, which proposes using technology to eliminate all suffering of sentient beings including nonhuman species, in theory though of course it'll never be possible. interesting idea. our noninterventionist ideals in nature are kind of inconsistent, not just because we obviously intervene anyway in our own interest, but because nature left to its own devices causes endless suffering. end rant. 
Careful with putting children and evil in the same sentence.

This belief (put into writing by Sigmund Freud as a main example - according to him children are born evil, want sex with their parents, and must be educated to become good) has led to very misguided ways of upbringing and education. Black pedagogy etc.

Just careful with putting "evil" together with random other terms, ok.

BTW if you're interested, Freud's interpretation of the classical Greek King Oedipus drama has been thoroughly dismantled by other scientists. I suggest reading the original and then reading Freud, and drawing your own conclusions. 
where did Freud come up again?
I agree entirely, Freud isn't taken seriously in psychology at all anymore, and thus he shouldn't be taken seriously by anyone; it'd be like choosing Lamarck's ideas over those of Darwin or rather the modern neoDarwinian synthesis in biology.

Children are selfish, absolutely. But they also have very little direct impact on the world: ie they don't design policies, start wars, run economies. Thus, in a consequence-based view, however underdeveloped their empathy may be, they aren't evil.

Freud wasn't a scientist. He was a cokehead careerist fraud who convinced people for a few decades that he was. 
Although To Be Fair 
he was still better than Jung 
"Evil" | "Control" | "Winning" 

"I argue that it is even if it's not deliberate, as the consequences of actions, not the "intentions" behind them, are why things are evil"

Intentions are all we have (on the individual level).

I agree that the results/consequences of actions are everything, but that becomes tricky on the individual level.

as a side note I'm extremely biased in this argument since I feel like basing morality on intentions gives people the excuse of stupidity or, more likely, willful ignorance

That's where meritocracy and social engineering come in. If done right, it softly removes freedoms from those not qualified to have them and subtly grants freedoms to those qualified for more freedoms.

On the individual level, omniscience is obviously impossible. As a result, no matter how high an individuals intelligence or expertise is, no one ever reaches peak human mastery of, say, the medical sciences and astronomy and mechanics and resource management at the same time.

But perhaps above all of those is self-awareness and humility, which is knowledge that "you" can help others and that others have things to give that can help "you".

[Social engineer types of sciences are extremely important because lesser educated humans tend to destroy their environment and it is a constant risk in society.] 
^^ Wrong Markup 
Meant to use the quote markup, ended up using the bold markup on accident. 
no one even proposes that creationists shouldn't be allowed to vote, but in my view public policy has to be based on evidence from the real world, and if you look at the scientific evidence for evolution, or global warming, and conclude "Naaah" then I think the more freedoms you have (to vote, to have 12 kids and brainwash them), the more society suffers.

Few social phenomena are more disturbing than those without morality rallying those without intelligence. But, to cite Carlin, I don't have kids and therefore I'm not bound to have a stake in the outcome, much as I'd like it to be positive. I guess my views are extreme, but when you realize that we actually live in a world where corruption, insanity and stupidity dominate to such a degree (yep, there's still witch hunts going on, still slavery, etc) it's hard to be moderate about it. 
Representative Democracy 
Representative democracy to some degree insulates a democracy from the less intelligent ever being able to obtain political power. Versus, say, a dictatorship where an uneducated Saudi Royal family guy or a Kim Jong guy are free to be as ignorant and dumb as they choose.

And as a general rule of thumb, it is very hard to achieve any kind of corporate position of status or power if ignorant.

The idea of voting should never be based on intelligence or qualifications.

The purpose of voting is to have a voice through a peaceful process. If dumb people couldn't vote, they would not be able to voice their priorities through a peaceful process and would be denied the social contract of representation for all.

All your concerns about the corruption, insanity and such are valid and it is a bit disappointing to think we live in such a world.

At the same time, life is meant to be a constant struggle and society would actually be worse for not having those problems.

Civilization has to earn advancement through enduring challenging times and developing successful solutions to the problems.

This modern problem is caused by the YouTube, reality TV, camera phone, Facebook era enabling much more accurate and quick communication and we get to see the world for what it is without rose colored glasses.

This is new to us.

10 years ago, a bonehead could only get a voice on TV through public access television programs at 4 am.

[And boneheads are very social in nature as a survival strategy because they would never be able to survive as individuals without a support group to help them through bad times that they will have several times when they screw up again and again in life.] 
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